Media impartiality under the spotlight in Bosnia and Herzegovina
As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina are reported to regularly face a situation wherein censorship and political pressure potentially compromise their journalistic integrity. In a case which epitomises this trend, on 28th July 2017 a journalist working for Sarajevo Television was pressured into deleting information on the scarcity of water resources in Sarajevo. The director of the state-funded broadcaster asked journalist Sunèica Sehic to remove the information. After refusing to omit it, Sehic was denied access to the internet and quickly transferred to another position. The case has become emblematic of a worrying trend of self-censorship owing to media outlets financial dependence on state funding. In a statement, the Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina Journalists also drew attention to this pattern of unwarranted interference in editorial decisions, stating that:
"This is not the first case, because the previous government also put pressure on journalists and reporters...So, and this public television, as well as many others in Bosnia and Herzegovina are under terrible pressure from political parties that are in power".
In this context, the Association also warned that a pervasive culture of self-censorship has quickly taken root among investigative journalists, citing a number of similar cases throughout 2017.
In a separate incident, a columnist working for Al Jazeera Balkans received a series of death threats after publishing a piece condemning a ring-wing gathering in support of alleged war criminal and Bosnian Serb military leader, Ratko Mladic, on the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in Banja Luka. On 11th July 1995, 8,000 Muslims were killed by units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under Mladic's control. Mladic is currently on trial in The Hague for genocide and other crimes, with a first verdict expected in November 2017. After receiving a number of death threats on social media by Mladic supporters, Al Jazeera Balkans journalist Dragan Bursac was forced to leave Banja Luka and go into hiding due to concerns for his safety. In a statement, Bursac asked if people of Republika Srpska will stand by as:
“...the Srebrenica genocide is celebrated in Banja Luka?”
Bursac also criticised authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina for failing to ban the gathering after choosing to simply delay the rally, viewing this decision as indicative of a situation where a growing and emboldened form of ultra-nationalism is being tolerated and legitimised, rather than confronted in Republika Srpska. On 8th August 2017, one person was arrested in connection with harassing Bursac.
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the recent decision by authorities in Republika Srpska to ban school children from studying the Srebrenica genocide in schools has been met with sharp condemnation from civil society groups.
In another incident, on 30th June 2017 a reporter and program editor for regional private broadcaster N1 TV received threats on social media. Adis Imamovic and Amir Zukic were threatened on the social media page Bošnjaci.net after reporting on the breaking of the Ramadan fast in Konjevic Polje (a village in eastern Bosnia). The two journalists were subjected to death threats as well as ethnic and religious slurs on Bošnjaci.net's Facebook page.
In a reportedly positive development, the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina fined the national broadcaster Republika Srpska Radio Television 29,000 KM (more than 14,800 EUR). The national broadcaster was found to have violated the Code of Ethics of the Audiovisual Media Services and Media Services of the Radio by promoting Milorad Dodik and his Alliance of Independent Social Democrats.
From June to August 2017, protests on various issues have been held. While there were no reports of any protests turning violent, a number of mobilisations focused on political and social issues as follows:
- Supporters of alleged war criminal and perpetrator of the Srebrenica genocide, Ratko Mladic, protested against his trial;
- After preventing the establishment of a new ethnically-segregated school in their town, pupils in Jajce led protests against ethnic divisions in Bosnian schools. High school students from all over the country protested outside the building of the canton-level government in Travnik, demanding the abolition of segregation in education, or the phenomenon of "two schools under one roof".
- Demobilised fighters have been protesting every day for two months in front of the building of the government of the Federation of BiH demanding adoption of a uniform registry of fighters and adoption of the resolution for veterans' compensation (video of their protest can be seen below);
- Republica Srpska citizens protested over the allocation of public budgets;
- Traffic and Transport Trade Union members protested to demand that the Republika Srpska government solve the issue of payment of contributions so that they can have health care;
- The Association of Women – Victims of War marched to two houses in the Bosnian city Visegrad where about 140 people were detained and burned 25 years ago;
- Finally, 6,000 people marched for eight days from Sarajevo through Nezuk to Srebrenica in memory of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide.
While there have been no changes within the legal framework regulating freedom of association, a draft on Amendments to the Law on Administration with the Constitution was established within the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH. The draft provisions would enable authorities to carry out inspections of more than 2,200 civil society organisations in the register of the Ministry of Justice.